New program gives former Leopold Award winners chance to mentor farmers

Wisconsin State Farmer
Leopold Conservation Award logo

A new program from the Sand County Foundation, the organization responsible for the annual Leopold Conservation Award, will be giving former award winners a chance to partner up with conservationist farmers as mentor and mentee.

Almost 150 people have been recognized by SCF for their contributions to sustainability and natural resource conservation since 2003, and several of them will be participating in the new two-year pilot program funded by a $250,000 Conservation Collaboration Grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service leg of the US Department of Agriculture.

"We all benefit when farmers and ranchers discuss how their farms impact soil health and water quality. We are optimistic this important work will continue beyond its two-year pilot phase," said Kevin McAleese, SCF's President and Chief Executive Officer.

The pilot program will help the award winners to promote and teach sustainability techniques to "underserved" farmers and ranchers who may not have proper access to learning about better, more durable ways to farm. The former award winners will act as "ambassadors."

"Leopold Conservation Award recipients are ambassadors who regularly discuss the importance of agricultural conservation with their peers and the general public. This project will empower our network of award recipients to share a range of knowledge, from how to apply for an NRCS conservation program to technical assistance, with an important audience," said Heidi Peterson, SCF's Vice President of Agricultural Research and Conservation.

Peterson said awareness of programs and access to land and credit are the key challenges that face underserved farmers in finding ways to accomplish conservation on the field. She also said that networking has been proven to be a catalyst in getting conservation techniques to spread among the agriculture community.

The project, titled "Empowering Landowners by Advancing a Land Ethic," takes after a quote from Aldo Leopold, the conservationist after whom the award is named. Leopold wrote "A Sand County Almanac" in 1949, where he urged landowners to adopt a "land ethic" to treat nature and wildlife with respect.

"Historically underserved farmers and ranchers face many challenges. Knowing someone to ask about a conservation practice can build confidence and have a lasting impact," said Dick Cates, a Wisconsin farmer who received the Leopold Conservation Award in 2013. "I look forward to participating as a mentor."